Mauricio Kagel is a favorite composer of mine. After discovering his "Compass Rose" pieces a few years ago I have gone both backward (to his electronic and his Cage-inspired works) and forward (to "Trio in drei Satzen," "R-r-r-r-r," and others). For my tastes, his vocal works succeed less well than his purely instrumental pieces, and small ensembles (salon orchestra-size down to trios) are where he excells. This may be an unfair generalization, but this CD only reinforces it.
Kagel has written a number of vocal works which involve disarticulating words or phrases, removing them from their original context or language and treating them as nearly pure sound. (Kagel is very aware of modern theories of language, and knows they still keep some associations, and he intends it as part of the affect of his works.) "Quirinus' Liebeskuss" grew out of an impulse to isolate short exclamatory words and use them as the text for a vocal work. Instead, he discovered this poem, made up almost entirely of lists of individual words. The result, like his "Schwarzes Madrigal" (a sung list of African place names, most mispronounced) is interesting, but little more. And, as Kagel himself notes, "Quirinus" is closely related to the third piece here, "Doppelsextett," in that the choirs in one and the instruments in the other "alternate rapidly in an incessant dialogue, as if giving commentaries on commentaries in an endless spiral." This, too, is interesting, even arresting at times, but before its 21 minutes are through I find my attention wandering.
Still, everyone interested in the best of contemporary orchestral music will want to own this CD, for the wonderful "Serenade." This is a trio for guitar/banjo/mandolin and ukelele player; flutist (which to my ears includes shakuhachi); and percussionist. As usual with Kagel, the percussionist plays an unusually wide range of instruments: here including a bottle containing small steel balls, a toy piano, and even "Bag with flowers" (I don't believe I hear this, though). "Serenade," which clocks in at over 23 minutes (every one of them fascinating) is by turn pointillist, percussive, hocket-like, and rapturous via unexpected tone combinations. Jazz composer/keyboardist Joe Zawinul once described the sounds he produced from his synthesiser as "the sounds of native instruments we have not yet discovered." Kagel here presents a serenade made up of the sounds of a kind of natural romance we have not yet named, but certainly can feel.